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Issue # 5

Issue # 5

Article Listing

Flatter the Land, Bigger the Ruckus
by Urban Shaman Gallery

Negotiating Stereotypes, Hybridity, and Community – The Work of KC Adams
by Cathy Mattes

Follow the Bunny
A responsive essay by Marlene Milne to:
Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump
by Marlene Milne

NÍhiyawin (Cree Worldview)
by Daina Warren

NÍhiyawin (Cree Worldview)

by Daina Warren


Around the time that Maria Campbell’s documentary book -‘Halfbreed’ [1]- was published for a second time in 19821, Cheryl L’Hirondelle began her exploration of Cree spirituality and history. The journey that began with Maria’s book brought Cheryl to a new understanding of her own family’s history, her own memories, and the broad foundation of those understandings within a Cree Worldview. Though there are many levels to this worldview, there are four main elements that are basic to it, and from which the multiple levels arise: the relationship between an individual and the land is reciprocal, thinking is cyclical (rather than linear), life is holistic, and time is flexible (things will happen when the time is right).[2]

Through a survey of performance, new media, music and multidisciplinary works, it will be seen how the Cree worldview influences Cheryl L”Hirondelle’s perspective and the art that is created from her meditations. This worldview is not just embedded in her art, but surrounds her thinking, compels her while developing projects, and leads her in her understanding of her environment and the communities that she works with. Cheryl frequently works in a collective atmosphere and likes to be surrounded by a community that she can feel connected to, communicate with, and which in turn feeds her practice. Through her communications with the land, its inhabitants, and objects, Cheryl’s carries with her a spiritual acceptance—an awareness—and uses that awareness to move within a world that is based on an Aboriginal spiritual perspective.


Candice Hopkin’s essay “How to get Indians into an Art Gallery,” [3] begins with a discussion on “cistÍm‚w iyiniw ohci” basing her statements on the details of the performance, presented on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan Indian Reserve in the northwestern reaches of Saskatchewan in 2001. The artist reenacts a historical and traditional practice of a Cree tobacco runner named Cistemaw Iyiniw, an individual that delivers tobacco from community to community to ask for attendance and support at ceremonies. Candice articulates Cheryl’s capacity to engage performatively with an audience that is at the outermost reaches of the contemporary art world—an audience that rarely sees the insides of institutional gallery walls. I wanted to expand on Candice’s observations even further and point out that the artist’s engagement with the community employed the land base as a bridge between the community and her self. Cheryl took her mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical self and immersed her form(s) in the reservation’s environment, in the very landscape, to understand the community’s experience and to find a connector to their bodies and minds. By moving her body through their time and space, she could start to then conceptualize their relationship to the land.

This idea of connecting to land is a central or a primary aspect of her work. The act of placing her body upon the land is united to the Cree worldview, illustrating that there is a reciprocity between the earth and an individual, that the land is communicating a language to the body and the body/mind responds through its own actions. She moved through the Makwa Sahgaiehcan environment, letting her feet understand the language of the land, and developed a communication in which she responded to the land by drawing written Cree Syllabics on specific locations on the reserve. In doing this, she created a visible connection between the language and the land that had created it.

Cheryl’s enactment of Cistemaw iyiniw, who was very respected from within the Makwa Sahgaiehcan Reserve, was another level on which the community could relate. Members of the community responded to Cheryl’s performance by telephoning each other to comment on her actions. Her performance initiated a personal relationship to the land and a derivative response occurred, community to performance.

Another example of a reciprocal relationship between the artist and the environment is Cheryl’s performance “awa ka ‚maciwÍt pÓw‚pisko-waciya”.[4] Having grown up on flat, treeless plains, the idea of vertical movement in space was not natural to her. She chose to examine the ephemeral space above our bodies, looking upward to create a relationship with the space above the land that is invisible yet integral to the environment as a whole.

During a residency at the Cube Cinema in Bristol, UK, she learned about alternative, vertical movement through space by climbing trees, fences and walls. She brought this new idea of how to move through space back with her when she came home to Canada. However, with the limitations of the winter temperatures keeping her indoors, she began to reflect on how to continue developing her climbing skills—movement upward, away from land—while maintaining her relationship to the earth. The result was a performance in which she used the stairwells of tall buildings to ascend and descend in space. She maintained a connection to the land by using a low watt/pirate radio playing a remixed compilation of bird sounds and other musicians’ and audio artists’ works, such as spoken word and music, during her ascent and descent. The radio was her communication to the winged beings that hover above land and to reach a real ‘audience’, the people who were able to pick up the frequency of her performance.

It was during this physical endurance that Cheryl realized that she was moving ‘between worlds’, and that she was able to place herself in a time and space that only she could transform to her own experience. Here, her experience could be shaped without the distractions of another individual’s perception of the world.

“during these initial practice climbs i realized this new activity contained elements from my recent intervention work cistemaw iyiniw ohci, both conceptually and in modus operandi, namely physical endurance and random audience factor. as i was also consciously challenging myself to experience a sense of de-programming i became increasingly pre-occupied with just how much everything in these constructed environments attempts to manipulate our free movement and expression. these climbing expeditions then also became process time for me to contemplate current projects, looking for connections and to sort out problem areas. from this, i was enabled to clearly see conceptual(ly?) [sure] through lines to ongoing work. as i climbed and became more familiar with traveling through space in alternate ways i also pondered the arrogance of governments and municipalities and their control of even airspace by zoning air for building height and licensing frequencies for radio transmissions. all these musings seemed to channel quite freely into the eventual formalized intervention awa ka ‚maciwÍt pÓw‚pisko-waciya has become.” – Cheryl L’Hirondelle [5]

Cheryl again applied written Cree syllabics to specific areas in the stairwells as a re-appropriation and reclamation for the birds and other creatures that frequent the airspaces. She was not only communicating with the physicality of earth, but also the totality of space that surrounds us. In these performances the artist is making a definitive point that all is connected and related.


The third concept is that of cyclical thinking. I discuss this because I believe it is important to bring forth different perceptions of the world than those with which we are raised in this society. Most indigenous societies have a perception that all things that are natural, in an accordance with natural law, are cyclical—the lunar cycles, seasons, women, our bodies, even time itself. All things that are alive are cyclical. The perception is that what you do now will affect you in the future because now and the future are a continuum which is cyclically related.

[kitaskinanaw / nitaskiy Űma / w‚panohk ohci / pahkisimot‚hk mÓna / kÓwÍtinohk ohci / mina s‚wanohk isi / kik‚winaw kitaskinaw] [6]

Another aspect of Cheryl’s creative talents is her music. Her songs and dances adapt both traditional and contemporary works. The Cree songs come from the Cree language, which in turn is derived out the worldview, the drumming creating patterns within song, and cycling back in rhythmic pattern to the beat that first begins a musical piece. By way of music, whole communities are brought together every year to rounddances and powwow, using the seasons to signal the time to gather, renewing relations between families and friends. These types of experiences have been a constant within Cheryl’s journey, Through her explorations in sound and rhythm, Cheryl had become incredibly gifted with different aspects of music using traditional hand drum, big drums or rattles; she has also been lead & backing vocalist for various groups and performances. She has worked with numerous musicians and currently performs in ‘M’Girl’ an Aboriginal women’s ensemble with Renae Morriseau, Sheila Maracle, and Tiare Laporte. I see this as a way of releasing a creative energy, using her body and mind as an instrument of expression, the music is bound to her personality, which in turn leads to her moving and reacting to her environment in a cyclical nature.

Throughout Cheryl’s prolific multidisciplinary arts career, she becomes totally immersed—emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually—in every project. She works in cycles by coming back to the start of a new lesson, a new practice, a new project. Seeing through a cyclical perspective, she is constantly coming back to herself, to death and rebirth. Whether it is through her career as a musician, as performance artist, or through the visual or new media arts practice, there is a patterning that keeps her involved and evolving her work.


In the Horizon Zero website “17:Tell”, [7] artists are invited to share their stories, and use their memory and vision to nurture the communal spirit. Numerous artists come together to use a tool that is rooted to the current global culture, using content like elders’ stories which talk about memory. The project “TELL” investigates issues related to Aboriginal new media storytelling, and provides the opportunity for all the Indigenous relations to profile the work of Indigenous storytellers from across North America and around the globe. This is a tool that can be employed by present and future Indigenous generations. She found in discussions with Aboriginal Elders that they were not afraid of this new tool and welcomed the internet and Cheryl’s efforts to communicate Aboriginal ideas and beliefs to people who wanted to learn through this medium. She sees the internet as a way to contact younger and future generations and keep them connected to Native culture, and as a communication tool that can be especially directed and beneficial to those individuals that have had to leave their traditional territories and reserves, those that are living in urban settings or moved away for work or educational purposes.

“From what I have come to understand, the term nehiyaw (cree) refers to being "four-bodied"—a term which acknowledges an essential connection to "all our relations", all of the other people of the earth extending in each of the four cardinal directions: East, West, North, and South. In recognition of this relationship, TELL begins to give a voice to all our relations, and includes all cultures by profiling the work of four storytellers from around the globe. From Africa and Asia to the UK and Aotearoa (New Zealand), each teller speaks from their direction, and each brings us a story that is, as Trinh T. Minh-ha might say, "at once a fragment and a whole; a whole within a whole". [8]

In Cheryl’s understanding of the Cree worldview, land that an individual is located on is not just their own; it is everyone’s. Any individual has rights to that location and must nurture it with respect. The Cree worldview is about accepting someone into the group if that individual is willing to participate in helping the survival of the group. If they are willing to help hunt, gather, make tools and caregive to the others, the individual is then nurtured as part of the communal and has protection and love from the group. The individual becomes part of the inhabitants’ experience, as the group is part of the individual’s.

We also talked about the Horizon Zero piece and how it was the drawing together of experience from different cultures—the four directions—using people’s stories to show the diversity of life experience. The Cree worldview is accepting of everyone’s experience, acknowledging their presence by listening and incorporating knowledge into the group. By basing this site on the four directions, acceptance and connection to every nation’s experience is created using the site as a tool for communication. Each site visitor navigates their own end to the story, thereby not constraining time/experience to one definition: the site and the visitor interact to create a new virtual experience.


Flexible time is the knowledge that things will happen when the time is right.

There is a sense of timelessness, or being outside time while in cyberspace, while surfing the web. Any and all information is accessible to any individual. Literal time and awareness of what is happening around us is forgotten. When that happens, we are using the internet as a mental journey. This is similar to a traditional Aboriginal practice among medicine men and seers, who could, and can, mentally/psychically travel the land to find food sources. In cyberspace we experience a mental feeding. This is a more visual, ‘contemporary’ way to experience the world in ways that are familiar to medicine men, shamans, and seers.

The project, www.wepinasowina.net [9] is about feeding the spirit by way of new media. Located in the larger new media project of Storm Spirits, (www.stormspirits.org) an online initiative of Urban Shaman: Contemporary Aboriginal Art (www.urbanshaman.org), we see artists and curators inserting Aboriginal knowledge into a space, the internet, that is so varied and constantly changing or evolving. Having a true artistic and Aboriginal voice to visit in this huge amalgamation of voices, creates a ground of sorts, a link to traditional values.

Upon entering “WÍpin‚sowina” the user encounters a white box labeled ‘pray’ and invited to type in a prayer. After the prayer is typed, he/she then pushes submit and a flowing cloth undulates as is wind or water is making it stir about. I sent several prayers and each prayer was newly colored. The colors are determined through the type of text that is inserted into the prayer box, thereby tinting each prayer with a designated color. These ‘flags’ or pieces of cloth are very significant because it alludes to many references from traditional cultures. The first I am reminded of tobacco ties and the broad cloth that is used in the wrapping and the fact that it is also a way of connecting to the spiritual.

Tobacco “semma”: “Semma (tobacco) is used to offer prayers at the Sacred Fire where you burn your Semma and tobacco ties. The Semma is also smoked in Sacred Pipes" (Canadian Health Network, 2000)[10]

In the “WÍpin‚sowina” project, she addresses the need to provide spiritual sustenance to the whole internet community. This is a project that stems from her interest in the philosopher, poet and mystic Hakim Bey’s concept of ontological anarchy, where the ideal is of creating or developing a community that continually questions the exclusivity of the norm. Anarchy in these terms is not about breaking up society, but about dynamically bringing together ideas, minds, interests, and emotional experiences. Cheryl sees the website as a way for anyone to connect to and find solace from the spirit world. Cheryl uses the internet as a tool that can be safe and spiritual, a place to find knowledge and gain experience

From Cheryl’s research, the ways in which Cree syllabics were used to design and adorn clothing (pre-contact) had deep meanings, not just decorative, but also as a means of evoking the protection of spirits and ancestors associated with the glyphs. She employs this idea and combines it with references to flags and how they are used as a symbol of who we are, and where we belong, thus embodying layers of cultural meaning. The flag blows in a virtual wind, reflecting the idea that the wind carries prayers, just as smoke does while smudging.

Though Cheryl sometimes experiences cyberspace as a vast lonely space where every once in awhile another person’s experience is met, in “WÍpin‚sowina”, flags become a reference point in the cyberspace world representing, animacy, movement and swirling energies. It is as if Cheryl is taking on the role of a mediator, intervening through cyberspace to bring spiritual happiness, providing a virtual safe house for those that need it. The website is presented in French, English, and Cree, so that it is accessible to a wide and diverse audience.

“Tibetan Prayer flags are inscribed with auspicious symbols, invocations, prayers, and mantras…Tibetan Buddhists for centuries have planted these flags outside their homes and places of spiritual practice for the wind to carry the beneficent vibrations across the countryside. Prayer flags are said to bring happiness, long life and prosperity to the flag planter and those in the vicinity."

“Dharma prints bear traditional Buddhist symbols: protectors and enlightened beings. As the Buddhist spiritual approach is non-theistic, the elements of Tantric iconography do not stand for external beings, but represent aspects of enlightened mind i.e. compassion, perfect action, fearlessness, etc. Displayed with respect, Dharma prints impart a feeling of harmony and bring to mind the precious teachings. Dharma flags may be placed either inside of a building to increase the spiritual atmosphere or outdoors where the wind can carry prayers. Traditionally, they are fastened to eaves, or sewn onto ropes to be displayed horizontally, or they are fastened to wooden poles for vertical display. Sets of five color flags should be put in order: yellow, green, red, white, blue (from left to right or from bottom to top.) The colors represent the elements: earth, water, fire, cloud, sky.” [11]

According to the Cree worldview, everyone is born with certain gifts from the Creator, such as healing, teaching or envisioning. A visionary is somebody with foresight, and this is what Cheryl L’Hirondelle embodies through her creative practice. As a visionary she foresees the global importance of the internet. She talks about how the Inuit in very northern communities adopted radio and tv into their culture, adapting the new medium to their own interpretation and uses. She saw how they experienced the world through an auditory (oral) medium, and used imagination to illustrate their stories. Television, computer games, film, video, and theatre have led a younger generation to experience the world through visual as well as aural mediums.

By seeing how the old ones are adaptable to such new ideas, and observing how Aboriginal ideas have constantly evolved, an individual can walk the trapline or surf the internet in a journey that is not about a set time or way of creating experience: it’s the acceptance that it takes however and whatever is needed for an individual to go through that experience.

L’Hirondelle is a teacher to not only a younger audience, but also to the global public by providing an awareness that all cultures can have a greater understanding of Aboriginal perspectives, using new tools to maintain and support that older, traditional culture. In realizing this project she provides a link between the Aboriginal traditional/older generations to younger generations, both Native and non-Native. She uses new media to create an Aboriginally determined space and Indigenous voice on and for the internet; a very prolific tool which accesses and connects people on a global scale to a unique spiritual perspective— NÍhiyawin (Cree Worldview).

English:  http://www.wepinasowina.net/


1. Campbell, Maria. (1982). Halfbreed. Dimensions : University of Nebraska Press., http://www.horizonzero.ca/textsite/tell.php?is=17&art=0&file=0&tlang=0, HorizonZero Issue 17: TELL

2. Levitt Architect Limited., THE CREE VILLAGE ECO-LODGE., http://wwwlevittarchitect.ca/eco_lodge.html The Cree Village Eco-Lodge

3. Hopkins, Candice. "How to get Indians in Art Galleries", Making a Noise! Aboriginal Perspectives on Art, Art History, Critical writing and Community, Lee-Ann Martin, editor, Banff International Curatorial Institute, Banff, AB Pages 192-205.

4. Cheryl L’Hirondelle., Cheryl L’Hirondelle CV., http://www.ndnnrkey.net/lhirondelle/., 2006

5. Cheryl L’Hirondelle., ka ‚maciwÍt pÓw‚pisko-waciya., http://www.ndnnrkey.net/climbing/commentary.html/., 2006

6. [translation: our land together/my land here/from the sunrise place/also to the sunset place/from the north/also to the south/our mother, our land] Joseph Naytowhow and Cheryl L’Hirondelle., kitaskinanaw ©2006 / SOCAN

7. Banff Centre., Horizon0: 17:Tell., Banff New Media Institure., http://www.horizonzero.ca/index.php?pp=29&lang=0., 2005

8. Banff Centre., Horizon0: 17:Tell., Banff New Media Institure., http://www.horizonzero.ca/index.php?pp=29&lang=0., 2005

9. Storm Spirits New Media., Wepinasowina., Urban Shaman Gallery., http://www.wepinasowina.net/index.php., 2006

10. University of Saskatechewan., Aboriginal Health & Cultural Diversity Glossary., http://www.usask.ca/nursing/aboriginalglossary/t.htm., 2003

11. The Spider., Tibetan Prayer Flags and Dharma Banners from Radiant Heart., http://www.prayerflags.com/.


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